New Testament professor’s commentary shares the joy of discovery

This summer, Herb Bateman, professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, labored to prepare a commentary for the groundbreaking, 44-volume Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series, scheduled for release in May 2012. The commentary series is the first in the evangelical world to be published primarily in a digital format.

Commenting on 2 Peter and Jude for the new series, Bateman will share the discoveries he has made while exploring God’s Word. Bateman has written many other books on Scripture, including A Workbook for Intermediate Greek: Grammar, Exegesis, and Commentary on 1–3 John and Interpreting the Psalms for Teaching and Preaching.

“I go about (this task) in the exact same way I teach my students to go about it,” Bateman, who teaches Greek courses at the seminary, said. “I’m not asking my students to do anything that I myself don’t do when I study the text. I begin by translating a text, and I look at doing a structural outline of the text, moving from clause to clause … to look for the structures of the author’s flow of thought. … In my workbook on intermediate Greek grammar, you’ll see the same step-by-step process.”

But Bible study does not culminate, for Bateman, in grammatical analysis and word study. Scripture transforms lives, and he labors to this end.

Writing for the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Bateman said, “is just a way that I can expand my sphere of influence to help people—teachers, pastors, those who are wrestling with the text—better understand how to rightly divide the text of Scripture. The proper teaching and preaching of God’s Word can change lives, and because of that, I want to help as many people as possible.”

Yet biblical study should not only change the lives of church members, it should also impact the lives of biblical scholars, pastors and teachers.

“If I’m studying the text, and it’s not changing my life,” Bateman asked, “how do I expect it to be changing others?” He shared how he has struggled with Scripture and come to terms with its truths in his own life. Studying the epistles of John, he recognized the significance of loving others in both the home and in the church.

“The emphasis I drew out (of these passages) is that Christian love begins in the home,” Bateman said. “If, as husbands, we cannot love our wives as Christ loved us, how are we going to be able to carry that love into the world?”

To love his wife, Bateman said, a man should create good memories with her and with their children. “What do I do,” he asked, “to create memories, because I know that one day, either I will die or my wife will die? What will she remember? What will my kids remember of us?

“And, when I am ministering within the church,” he added, “what memories can I create within my congregation that will be positive, affirming memories, that say, ‘I am glad to be a part of this family’?”

As Bateman teaches Greek courses at Southwestern Seminary, he challenges students to learn the technical aspects of Greek grammar and syntax well. Ultimately, however, he wants students to learn Greek so that they will “know how to preach the text—to know what the text says, and not what you want to impose upon the text.”

“Greek and Hebrew just illuminate the text to make you more passionate and excited about what you learn as you wrestle with the text,” Bateman said. “Nobody is going to wrestle with the text the way you are, but I want to provide the tools so that you can wrestle with the text yourself, so that your teaching of God’s Word is exciting.”

“Don’t bore people,” he said. Don’t show them the grammatical tools of your trade—how one verb is present indicative, but another is imperative. Church members “don’t care about all that,” just as a person doesn’t care what tools a plumber uses to fix his sink. He just wants the sink to work. The niceties of Greek grammar belong to the preacher, and not to the congregation. “That is for you. They’re your tools.”

“Just tell them what you’ve discovered. Share the joy of your discovery with them.”